One of the coolest features of Iceland that attract thousands of tourists every year is the Icelandic ice caves. There are few places in the world where you can have the experience of exploring the inside of a cave that’s made entirely of ice. The huge glaciers in Iceland make this possible, and as they are constantly shifting, the ice caves are always changing. And with all the geothermal activity on the island, parts of the caves may melt in the summer to reveal new hidden areas or block off others.

But don’t worry, the ice caves are entirely safe to visit in the winter, as the colder temperatures ensure the ice is solid. And there are some man-made caves you can visit in the summer. You will need to visit the ice caves with a professional guide, who will take you to the best spots, but to get there, you’ll need a rental car.

Some ice caves in Iceland are better than others, so we’ve rounded up the top 4 Iceland ice caves and how to visit them by rental car. We will also give you some background on the caves and include some safety tips at the end. So, let’s get started!

glacier ice cave Iceland

Table of content

Quick answers to the Iceland ice caves – FAQ

Here are the answers to all your burning questions about visiting the Iceland ice caves.

Can you visit the ice caves alone/on your own in Iceland?

Unless you are with a guide, it’s unlikely you will be able to locate the ice caves in Iceland. They are all hidden on the glaciers, and their entrances and locations can change yearly. You MUST join a local tour to visit the ice caves as it’s important for your safety and the safety of your group.

iceland winter limited ice cave

What car should I rent to visit ice caves in Iceland?

A rental car is essential for visiting the ice caves in Iceland. It will allow you to get to the meeting point and connect with your tour guide. The rental car you’ll require for your trip will depend on the month that you’ll be visiting Iceland, but because the ice caves are only accessible in the winter, it’s important you choose a vehicle that is suitable for the winter conditions.

The main factors to consider when booking a rental car are:

  • Weather
  • Number of people traveling
  • Amount of luggage
  • What routes do you intend to take in Iceland

An economy or compact car should be suitable if you’re traveling solo or as a couple. If you have a group of 3 to 4, then an intermediate or full-size car is essential. Regardless of the car size, you’ll want to make sure it’s a 4X4, as visiting in the winter means you’ll be exposed to slippery, snowy road conditions. If you want more information about renting a car in Iceland, check out these car rental tips.

4x4 vehicle are the best for iceland road condition

Is there an ice cave I can visit in the summer in Iceland?

The only natural ice cave you can visit in the summer in Iceland is the Katla ice cave. All other natural ice caves can only be visited in the winter. That said, there are some man-made ice caves that are safe to visit all year round, such as the ice cave at Langjökull.

visiting the ice cave in November Iceland

Map of ice caves in Iceland: our top 4 picks

On this map, we’ve marked our 4 top ice cave picks, plus some other famous ice caves in Iceland.

What are ice caves in Iceland? How are they formed? Where are they?

The majority of the ice caves in Iceland don’t fit the technical definition of what an ice cave is. An ice cave is really just a cave formed out of rock that contains ice all year-round, meaning it stays below zero, at least in part of it. The ice caves in Iceland are different, as they are entirely formed out of ice and hidden in the glaciers. That makes them glacial caves, which are much rarer.

The caves in Iceland are formed when temperatures begin to rise and the days become longer, creating meltwater on the surface of the glaciers. It slowly melts the ice, creating caverns and tunnels within the glaciers. Many of these shafts are nearly vertical, running to the base of the glaciers, and can sometimes be up to 10 meters in width. These shafts may then link up with other caves created by subglacial, geothermal rivers.

Ice caves can be located anywhere there are glaciers in Iceland. The ice caves change on a daily basis due to glacier movement and temperature change, so an ice cave that is there one day could be gone a week later. There are likely many ice caves in Iceland that are still undiscovered. That said, most of the ice caves are found inside the Vatnajökull glacier within the national park.

october is a good time to visit iceland

1. Vatnajökull glacier blue crystal ice cave

Vatnajökull National Park covers around 8% of Iceland, so it’s no surprise that you’ll find some of the most amazing and famous ice caves here. The blue crystal ice cave is the most popular of all the Icelandic glacial caves and the one you likely have seen in many pictures. It’s been in the same place since 2011, making it unique from many other ice caves in Iceland. It’s large in size, big enough to fit about 100 people, and is shaped like a massive crystal dome. It’s relatively easy to access, with many tour options starting from the famous Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon.

iceland winter limited ice cave

Where is it + how to get there by car?

The Vatnajökull glacier blue crystal ice cave is located on Vatnajökull glacier, with the starting point for most tours being at the Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon. It takes around 5 hours to drive here from Reykjavik by a car driving east on Route 1 Ring Road.

Recommended crystal blue ice cave tour

When to visit?

Tours to Vatnajökull glacier blue crystal ice cave operate from mid-Oct or Nov until the end of March or mid-April. Exact dates will depend on weather conditions, temperatures, and the status of the cave.

What car should you rent for this trip?

This ice cave is only accessible in winter, so a 4X4 vehicle is highly recommended.

4x4 rental car iceland

2. Katla ice cave – the black ice cave

Katla ice cave is one of the only natural ice caves in Iceland that you can visit year-round. This cave sits below Mýrdalsjökull Glacier and was originally created by the eruption of Katla volcano, which is Iceland’s most active volcano (with the last eruption taking place in 1918). The ice cave features iconic black ice walls filled with bubbles, which you might notice from the Star Wars: Rogue One film. There are multiple small caves inside, some connected by small tunnels that you need to crawl through.

katla ice cave is the only ice cave accessible all year round

Where is it + how to get there by car?

Katla ice cave is located under Mýrdalsjökull Glacier near the southern Icelandic town of Vik. Most people drive down to Vik and then take a tour to the volcano and ice caves from there. It’s an easy drive from Reykjavik east on Route 1 Ring Road, taking only 2.5 hours.

Recommended black ice cave local tour

When to visit?

You can visit Katla ice cave all year round.

What car should you rent for this trip?

If you visit Katla ice cave during the summer, a 2WD rental car will suffice, as the route is easy to drive and well maintained. If you’re visiting in the fall or winter, we recommend a 4X4 as the roads to the tour meeting points can be snow-covered and slippery.

rent a PHEV car in Iceland

3. Man-made Langjökull ice tunnel

In 2015 Langjökull ice tunnel was the first man-made ice cave to be built in Iceland. It was drilled 550 meters deep into the westernmost portion of the Langjökull glacier. While it may not be naturally formed, there are additional perks to it being man-made. Inside the cave, you’ll find 5 chambers with sitting areas, wall displays, exhibitions, and a built-in wedding chapel. There are lights inside that illuminate the cave, giving it a beautiful teal color. As it’s man-made, it’s expected to stay generally the same for at least another decade.

Into The Glacier ice tunnel iceland

Where is it + how to get there by car?

The best way to access Langjökull is through the west access point at Húsafell, which is approximately 130km Northeast of Reykjavik and takes just under two hours to drive. It’s an easy drive north out of Reykjavik on the Route 1 Ring Road, then a short veer off onto Route 50, followed by Route 518, which runs straight into Húsafell. Many tours leave from this location.

Recommended man-made ice tunnel tours

When to visit

You can visit Langjökull ice cave all year round on a guided tour. 

What car should you rent for this trip?

The route to get to this ice cave is well-maintained, so it’s accessible with both a 2WD and 4WD. But if you’re visiting in the fall or winter months, we always recommend a 4X4. Winter weather conditions can be unpredictable, and the roads will likely be slippery or snow-covered. 

driving to the ice tunnel in Iceland

4. Skaftafell glacier hike + ice caves

Skaftafell glacier hike and ice caves are located in Skaftafell National Park, which is one of the outlets of Vatnajökull. The area used to be its own national park but was then made part of Vatnajökull back in 2008. The caves are formed by a large glacial river that winds through the glacier during the summer months, so the only time you can access these caves is during the winter when the river has frozen up. Because of that, no two years are the same and there are always new areas to discover. You need to enter the Skaftafell ice caves on a tour, where a professional can safely guide your hike through the caves and ensure you’re prepared with the necessary equipment. It takes about 4 hours to complete the hike, so prepare accordingly.

skaftafell glacier ice cave

Where is it + how to get there by car?

Skaftafell ice caves are located at the southwest tip of the Vatnajökull glacier. It takes about 4.5 to 5 hours to drive there from Reykjavik, so we recommend staying in the town of Hof, which is only 20 minutes up the road. The access point is just off Route 1 Ring Road, so it’s very straightforward to get to. It’s also right next to Svartifoss waterfall.

Recommended Skaftafell glacier hike + ice cave tour

When to visit

You can only visit Skaftafell ice caves in the winter, from mid-October through March.

What car should you rent for this trip?

Since the ice cave is only accessible during the winter, it’s highly recommended that you rent a 4X4. The road up to the meeting point can often become hard to drive in the winter, so you need a sturdy vehicle.

skaftafell ice cave

Safe travel tips when visiting Iceland ice caves

Exploring Iceland’s ice caves can be dangerous. They are set within glaciers, which are constantly shifting, cracking, melting, and refreezing. Some of the caves can be very steep, and of course, they are incredibly slippery. You should only enter ice caves that have been assessed for safety by a professional and with a guide. 

Never attempt to go into an ice cave on your own. There have been situations where tourists have done so in the past, and it doesn’t end well. By going with a guide, you’ll ensure you have fun and do so safely!

Make sure you wear layers to protect from the cool temperatures and wear all the ice caving gear your guide gives you, including crampons, headlamps, safety harnesses, and hard hats.

ice cave tour outfit

Visit Iceland ice caves with your rental car

If you’re visiting Iceland, you can’t miss exploring one, or many, of the glacier ice caves we’ve included in this article. They truly are some of Iceland’s greatest gems. While the four we’ve listed in this article are some of the top in the country, there are always new ones popping up to explore each year. To visit the ice caves in Iceland, you’ll need a rental car to drive to the meeting points of your tour. Make sure to always book your rental car online and in advance with Hertz Iceland to ensure you get a suitable option for your group.

Recommended rental cars for an ice cave exploring trip

rent a hyundai Tucson in Iceland

Hyundai Tucson Hybrid or similar | Automatic | 4×4

IFAI | Group: N3 (IFAI)

  • 5 Passengers
  • Automatic
  • 3 Large Luggage, 1 Small luggage
  • Airconditioning
  • 5 Doors
Rent a Kia Sorento PHEV in Iceland

Kia Sorento Plug-in Hybrid or similar | Automatic | 4×4

SFDI | Group: O6 (SFDI)

  • 5 Passengers
  • Automatic
  • Airconditioning
  • 5 Doors
4wd land rover defender hire in iceland

Land Rover Defender or similar | Automatic | 4×4

PFAN | Group: G6 (PFAN)

  • 5 Passengers
  • Automatic
  • Airconditioning
  • 5 Doors
land cruiser rental in Iceland

Toyota Land Cruiser 7 seater or similar | Automatic | 4×4

FVAN | Group: H (FVAN)

  • 7 Passengers
  • Automatic
  • Airconditioning
  • 5 Doors
Discovery land rover rental car in Iceland

Land Rover Discovery or similar | Automatic | 4×4

LFAV | Group: R6 LFAV

  • 5 Passengers
  • Automatic
  • Airconditioning
  • 5 Doors
KIA Sportage or similar| automatic | 4x4

KIA Sportage or similar | Automatic | 4×4

IFAR | Group: O (IFAR)

  • 5 Passengers
  • Automatic
  • Airconditioning
  • 5 Doors